The absent legacy of the Class of 2016


Kate Karstens, Editor-in-Chief

karstens_absences_news“In my nine years of being here, I don’t remember a class that has been this bad,” said Dean of Students, Mr. Erik Healey.

This past year, the senior class has missed a total of 8,575 classes, according to attendance data. The time missed is equivalent to 719,205 minutes of instructional time and 1,712 full days of school, with seven hours of instructional time in a school day.

As a result, Healey and members of the administration are working to make changes to school attendance policies that will impact every class going forward.

“Attendance has gotten steadily worse, especially in the past three years,” said Principal Mr. Tyrone Byrd. “Each class has pushed the envelope a little bit each year.”

These absences include both excused and unexcused, and students are able to be excused by parents or themselves, if they have signed the 18 year old declaration.

I think the policies should be amended, starting with the 18 year old declaration, and what kids can sign out for,” said English teacher Ms. Karin Tooze, who teaches seniors. “There’s a lot of abuse in the system…not everyone can have a doctor’s appointment in Falls Church at the same time as my block 7.”

FCCPS School Board Policy 9.22 states that if a student has been marked absent, excused or unexcused, for six class periods or 12 daily class periods, then they receive an automatic failure. If a student misses more than 10% of school days in a year, 18 in FCCPS, then they are identified as having chronic absenteeism.

Senior George Castillo admits to having missed a lot of classes in 2016-17. Castillo, heading off to Yale University in the fall, does not believe that his absences in any way affected his classroom performance.

“I made up all of my assignments and my teachers were very understanding and patient regarding my absences because I think they understand very well what it is like to be a senior and have so many other responsibilities,” said Castillo. “I made up all my [work] and came in for Saturday school to ‘buy back’ missed time.”

“Near the end of the year, I started skipping because we were doing nothing in class and I can do nothing from home too,” said senior Vicky Marie Addo-Ashong. “One day, I skipped Spanish because we were watching a movie with a substitute teacher. Why would I stay here for that?”

Toward the end of the year, specifically at the start of second semester, data show a significant increase in absences. The percentage of students who missed more than six classes in one course jumped from 8.3% in quarter two to 18.1% in quarter three.

Furthermore, the students who missed time equivalent of six classes in a course rose from 8.8% in quarter two to 25.3% in quarter three.

Tooze has expressed frustration with the lack of accountability held for students concerning the School Board’s Failure for Non Attendance policy.

“Why have the policy if you’re not going to adhere to it?” said Tooze.

Byrd views the policy differently from Tooze, believing that each student is a specific case and a broad policy does not supplement each child’s needs.

“I’m not a big policy guy,” said Byrd. “I think the policies just make teachers agitated because then they feel like they are going through all of this trouble for no reason. If we’re not going to enforce it, then it should go away.”

According to Healey, administration has discussed modifying the 18 year old declaration and sign out policy to avoid further abuse.

“There will be changes made to the attendance [policies] that will impact classes from now until forever,” said Healey.

This could prove troublesome for current junior SCA officers working to grant senior year privileges for the Class of 2017 at the start of the school year, as opposed to the start of semester two. Senior privileges allow students to have an open campus.

“I am personally for the idea of having senior privileges at the start of the year and if you abuse those privileges as an individual, then you lose them,” said Healey. “I would hate to see an entire class punished for the actions of individuals.”

Despite the 19.2% of the Class of 2016’s chronic absenteeism, successful conversations concerning granting the Class of 2017’s senior privileges have occurred.